A television show in which a woman would donate a kidney to a contestant was revealed as a hoax Friday, with presenters saying they were trying to pressure the government into reforming organ donation laws.
Shortly before the controversial program was to air, Patrick Lodiers of the “Big Donor Show” said the woman was not actually dying of a brain tumor and the entire exercise was intended to put pressure on the government and raise awareness of the need for organs.
The three prospective recipients were real patients in need of transplants and had been in on the hoax, the show said.
The program concept had received widespread criticism for being tasteless and unethical.
But Lodiers said that it was “reality that was shocking” because around 200 people die annually in the Netherlands while waiting for a kidney, and the average waiting time is more than four years. Under Dutch rules, donors must be friends, or preferably, family of the recipient. Meeting on a TV show wouldn’t qualify.
“I thought it was brilliant, really,” said Caroline Klingers, a kidney patient who was watching the show at a kidney treatment center in Bussum, Netherlands.
“I know these transplant doctors, and I thought they’ll never go and actually do it. But it’s good for the publicity and there are no losers.”
During the show, 25 kidney patients were vetted by “Lisa,” and most were quickly dismissed for being too old, too young, smokers, ex-smokers or unemployed. Contestants gave moving pleas for why they should receive the organ.
“It really hurt watching that,” said Tim Duyst, whose wife is awaiting a transplant and cannot work. “You’re dismissed in a wave of the hand.”
Viewers were called on to express an opinion or vote for their favorite candidate by SMS text message for 47 cents.
The show was produced by Endemol, which created “Big Brother” in 1999.
The Royal Netherlands Medical Association, known by its Dutch acronym KNM, had urged its members not to participate and questioned whether the program might just be a publicity stunt.
“Given the large medical, psychological, and legal uncertainties around this case, the KNMG considers the chance extremely small that it will ever come to an organ transplant,” it said.
All seven of the country’s transplant centers had said they not cooperating with the program, KNMG spokeswoman Saskia van der Ree.
Earlier in the week, the Cabinet declined suggestions from lawmakers to ban the program, saying that would amount to censorship.